A lotta, lotta people like gossip.  The definition – It’s informal and entertaining conversation about people who are not present.  Also, gossip usually involves us making moral decisions about them – what we think about Brangelina’s numerous children, Elliot Spitzer’s sexual behavior, or Kate Middleton’s lengthy wait for the famous sapphire.  We gossip about whether or not we would behave in the same manner.   It seems so useless – why bother with gossip?  In an interesting article in Scientific American, the author quotes researchers who believe that gossip has significant uses.  It is:

1.)    a method of social bonding (maintaining a we-group)

2.)    a way of comparing ourselves to others, especially those who are real or imaginary rivals (which could mean people of the same age or in the same field).   Therefore, people are especially interested in scandals.

Gossip also appears to have some evolutionary adaptation – it has survived from the very long-ago past (think spears).  When people lived and hunted in small groups, they depended on each other so accurate knowledge about each member of the community could have meant life or death.  Passing along information about people would have helped their survival because they learned who was reliable, skilled, or good mating material – gossip was more than handy or fun.   Today, people follow the lives of celebrities.   We watch their shows, read their blogs, follow them on twitter, google them to gain more information, and gobble up the endless streams of data.   On the surface, this seems like a waste of time, even as gossip.   But today, celebrities are in our faces all the time.  They have become as familiar to us as the cave dweller next door must have been years ago.

To be fair, gossip can be helpful by reminding people about appropriate behavior or peer group norms.  Sharing information can demonstrate trust. It is usually a good way to gather data.  Negatively, as we all know, gossip can be controlling, malicious, harmful and increasingly hard to manage as it spirals out of control in this age of instant communications.

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